Luke Daly readily admits he was waging a battle in his head and on the field.
The redshirt freshman kicker was wrapped up in the results of his competitors — left-footed junior Trevor Bolton and true freshman Trevin Thompson — instead of his own technique and the task at hand at the outset of fall camp. The lack of focus resulted in a slew of errant kicks and a disenchanted Montana State head coach; Rob Ash on Aug. 12 expressed frustration that no one had stepped up and seized the field goal kicking post.
“I want to play so bad that it’s like I put all this pressure on myself — I want to know the end result,” Daly said one day later. “I’m just trying to hope for the best.”
To reverse course, the Billings Central product leaned on faith, family and ability. He emerged as a confident, consistent performer this past week.
He was rewarded Wednesday, when Ash appointed Daly to succeed two-year starter and former All-Big Sky honorable mention placekicker Rory Perez.
Thursday, the coach announced that the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Daly’s fall duties would also include kickoffs, which Bolton handled in 2013.
Ash was not available for comment Thursday.
“I was kind of shocked at first just because I was like, ‘Whoa, my dream is starting to come true,” Daly said Thursday afternoon outside the Bobcats’ weight room. “It’s kind of overwhelming. … Now, I really need to step up and do my best for this team and this program and this school.
“I would say I had a lot of heart going into this whole competition. … I just went out there and attacked it every day and prepared myself since last spring. After Rory left in the fall, once winter conditioning started I was like, ‘It’s game time and I’ve got to kick it into gear so I can compete for that position in the fall.’”
The competition started inauspiciously for all three kickers, who routinely misfired on their limited practice attempts and went 4 for 9 in Aug. 9’s first scrimmage.
The efforts led Ash to surmise, “I think part of what’s going on is these guys are so tense about who’s going to be the kicker.”
“It was kind of difficult because I know I can do better,” he said. “Toward the end, I started to focus on myself and worked on my technique, and it started to get better from there.”
Daly likely distanced himself from Bolton and Thompson with a 3-for-3 performance in Saturday’s final scrimmage; the last split the uprights from 52 yards out.
During Tuesday and Wednesday’s final camp practices, he routinely booted kickoffs out of the end zone.
“Yeah, it was the (turning point),” Daly said of Saturday’s final attempt. “Kicking is all about technique. Trevor and Trevin, they definitely have stronger legs than me; my squat and clean aren’t the greatest on the team. What it comes down to is your technique, and it’s just a football; you don’t have to be a power lifter to put the ball through the uprights.”
Daly takes over for Perez, who struggled during his senior season after a sterling 17-for-21 effort as a junior. He converted just 7 of 14 last fall; the Bobcats attempted just two field goals in the final six games, and the Southern Californian missed both.
Daly is convinced he can fill the role admirably and make a smooth transition from small-school action to the college ranks. That is something he said he was not equipped to handle last year.
“I’m thankful that I redshirted last year. … I needed that year under my belt to grow up and get used to everything around me,” he added.
“I’m going to be nervous just because I came from a small A school, so the crowds weren’t too big usually. But when it comes down to competition and when the kicks are on the line, I usually succeed. I’m just going to trust in my teammates and myself to get the job done.”
Jon Maletz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2601. Follow him on Twitter @jmaletz.